During the time when Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY) was in the search for something unique to add to their current roster of programs for veterans, laughing yoga topped the list.
“Jeannette Watson Sanger, the laughing yoga facilitator and volunteer, is the perfect combination of a professional who is skilled at her craft and has a genuine interest in working with veterans. Her class is both engaging and restorative, and we are all quite pleased to have her work with us,” stated Rachel Weinstein, a vice president at VOA-GNY. VOA-GNY is currently the largest provider of residential services for veterans in NYC with more than six hundred units of transitional and supportive housing. The first laughing yoga session commenced last September at VOA’s veteran’s residence in Manhattan, a facility that is home to 174 vets, most of whom are men.
Although the combination of yoga and laughter might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of services for veterans, Jeanette mentioned they are actually one of the most engaged groups that she has ever worked with. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Laughing yoga is a unique exercise routine that combines group laughter exercises interspersed with breathing, stretching and rhythmic clapping. It fosters happiness and clears negativity. It is very healthy — laughing engages 85% of your lungs. In classes we make a commitment to joy. The idea is to fake it till you make it,” she explained. She added that a mere ten minutes of laughing yoga is equivalent to twenty minutes of jogging. Furthermore, an hour session can assist one to burn up to 400 calories.
“These veterans have been through so much stress. The problem is that they come back from serving and many vets don’t get a lot of support from the community. They aren’t being cared for. I have seen that even a half-hour yoga session is enough to alleviate some of their anxiety and trauma. One of the men said he couldn’t even remember what he was worried about when we started, and another said he felt more relaxed. One veteran quoted some research — laughter produces chemicals in the brain that make you feel better,” she said. Each class ends with the vets sharing their stories and telling jokes. Jeanette also ends every class with meditation and selects some prose to read. For the full story, you can read it here.
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